Before asking myself whether prayer works, let me first define my terms. Is prayer a lever for moving the universe according to my whims, or is it a tool for molding my will to God’s?

The Myth of a Successful Prayer Life

Spring showed up bleak and gray this year, but we barely noticed. The weight of waiting occupied every minute, with question marks bristling where daffodils had been delayed. An army of friends prayed for our family when we could not, waging war on our behalf, inquiring with kindness about obstacles that made no sense and resolution that did not come.

But then one day answers began to bloom. Seismic yeses from God felt like tectonic plates shifting beneath our feet, and the way before us was mercifully clear and certain.  In all the restless energy of waiting I had begun to feel like a failure—a failure at prayer! Then I wondered:  Is this arrival of clarity a sign of success?

Instructions for a Successful Prayer Life

In North America, we are preoccupied with success on every front. Fear of missing the mark drives us to seek out recipes that guarantee a good outcome. Ironically, though, while prayer is happening all over the place in Scripture, there is very little instruction on the generalities beyond “pray like this” and “go into your room and shut the door.” Instead, Jesus and the psalmists and the prophets were all busy doing the work of prayer, pouring out their hearts like water in supplication, celebration, or anticipation of what God would do next.

Jesus’s parable about the persistent widow in Luke 18 reveals the complexity of defining successful prayer, and today it’s my great joy to be sharing truth from that vignette over at Marva Smith’s writing home. I’d love it if you joined me over there to read the post in its entirety.

The Myth of a Successful Prayer Life is part of Marva’s Shining Like Stars series, and you’ll find a blessing if you click here to read other posts.


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30 thoughts on “The Myth of a Successful Prayer Life”

    1. I agree, Tom. However, I choose to see that as a rallying call to arms. We are seeing a small glimpse of what the world could be like without our God holding back evil.

      We frequently quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” but how many people sincerely DO that . . . humble, pray, seek and turn? In my opinion, if evil seems to be winning then not enough of the people “called by His Name” are following that formula.

      I know sometimes the news overwhelms me and I cry and whine to God. But I also know I need to armor up, do my part and get into the battle. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 144:1 — “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.” We never fight alone – and when God equips us we are victorious. Let’s get into this spiritual battle and make a difference!


      1. Wow, these are bold insights, and I’ve recently been challenged to take up the armor of God and pray as if we are in a battle.
        I so appreciate your sharing these thoughts here.


  1. Michele, thank you for putting into words, what I believe many of us feel — that sometimes we feel like a failure when it comes to prayer. It’s easy to look around and wonder if our prayers are being answered or if God is even listening. Thank you for reminding me that prayer is more like an act of trust as I learn to depend on God and watch Him put the pieces together in perfect places. Your words have given me hope today!
    Blessings to you,
    Marva | SunSparkleShine


    1. Thanks, Marva, for your warm welcome–and for the encouragement that you also share the same struggle with prayer.
      The good part is that struggle is a sign something is going on–> When we stop struggling, we’ve given up!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So good. I am reading Eugene Peterson’s book “Run With the Horses” and it is so encouraging too in relation to prayer. What he shares about Jeremiah mirrors the journey God has taken me through these past couple of years especially (p.99-100):
    “Jeremiah’s prayer is not pious, not nice, not proper—he speaks what he feels, and he feels scared, lonely, hurt and angry. Well enough. God’s part in the prayer is to restore and save. Before God in prayer we do not remain the same. Before God in prayer we do not remain the same. The fright and loneliness and pain and accusation are all there, but they do not stay there. Part (not all) of what Jeremiah was doing was feeling sorry for himself on his knees. God feels our pains, but he does not indulge our self-pity. God is severe with Jeremiah as Jeremiah was severe with the people: “Repent. Turn away from that kind of feeling for it is destructive. Then I will restore you, and you will stand upright, ready to serve again, in my presence.”

    It is so true that it is when our prayers aren’t answered in our timing or in our way that we can so easily turn to shame because we think we have failed…I did that just this past week…until Jesus pulled me out of my selfish focus to see His purposes unfolding, also through the encouragement sent by friends. He is so merciful to us.

    Thank you for this beautiful word of encouragement.


    1. That’s one of my favorite Peterson books, and I appreciate the reminder of the quote you shared. What a gift to our family and friends if we always did our whining on our knees before God!


      1. 😊 it’s been full of such affirmation for me, reminding me that though my path may not look pretty, it has been God’s intended path for me to shape, mould and refine my heart. I am noting down quotes to return to as I go.


  3. I loved this, Michele: “Jesus and the psalmists and the prophets were all busy doing the work of prayer, pouring out their hearts like water in supplication, celebration, or anticipation of what God would do next”. Heading over to read the rest of the post. I love what you have to say about prayer.


  4. Thanks, Michele! I’m headed over to Marva’s site to finish reading. I love the subject of prayer. It’s a much too underutilized tool in our Christian toolbelt!

    Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragemetns!


  5. Expecting prayer to be a formula is a tough one when a prayer doesn’t get answered how we think we need it to be. I’ve been praying for one specific answer for years and see no answers yet. I have to see it as a way to grow and seek God’s will in the waiting. God has work to do that we can’t always see. We can’t expect a specific result if we do all “the right things”. That isn’t who God is or how He works. Dropping by from InstaEncouragments! Thanks for the post.


  6. I have found prayer to be a rather interesting subject for many. This may have to do with people believing that prayer is something you do when it isn’t like that at all. Prayer is what we become. The psalmist David said it best when he said, “I prayer”. He understood that prayer was just a term to describe the intimacy he had with the Son and the Father. When we can come to that place of union and communion with Jesus we will fully understand that prayer is really nothing more, and nothing less, than that ongoing conversation we have with God. In many ways it resembles the conversations married people have when they have been together for many, many years.

    We would do well to relax and just learn to listen to His voice and then respond. Learn to build that conversation and relationship with Him instead of focusing on the mechanics and logistics of formal prayer. I personally don’t think my wife would appreciate it if I dressed up in a formal suit and tie, bought roses and candy and then formally addressed her in proper King James english just to say good morning every day. We need to realize that God is far more relaxed about conversing with us. All He is looking for is relationship. The details will work out by themselves. Just being there with Him is what prayer is all about.

    Homer Les


  7. I really enjoyed your post over at Sun Sparkle Shine, Michele, and I’ve scheduled it to share on Twitter. You raise so many important points. It is amazing to watch how God’s answers to prayers are timeless, and we truly cannot fail at prayer. Thank you for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party.

    Liked by 1 person

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